Anglo-Celtic Australians

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Anglo-Celtic Australians
Total population
Regions with significant populations
All parts of Australia including urban, rural and regional Australia
English • Welsh • Irish • Scottish Gaelic • Cornish
Christian (Roman Catholic and Anglican)
Related ethnic groups
European New Zealanders

Anglo-Celtic Australians[3] is a statistical grouping of Australians whose ancestors originate wholly or partially in the countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.[4][note 3]



The British Government initiated European settlement of the Australian continent by establishing a penal settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. Between then and 1852, about 100,000 convicts (mostly tried in England) were transported to eastern Australia. Scotland and Wales contributed relatively few convicts.

Native-born Australians of British and Irish descent were approximately a quarter of the population of the colony of New South Wales in both 1817 and 1828.[5]: 17  There were slightly more native-born than free settlers in 1850.[5] They were nearly half of the population in 1868.[6] Their proportion of the population decreased during the times of the rapid population growth brought on by the goldrushes.[5]: 17  The convicts were augmented by free settlers, including large numbers who arrived during the gold-rush in the 1850s. As late as 1861, people born in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland outnumbered even the Australia-born population. The number of settlers in Australia who were born in the United Kingdom (UK) peaked at 825,000 in 1891, from which point the proportion of British among all immigrants to Australia steadily declined.[clarification needed]

Until 1859, 2.2 million (73%) of the free settlers who immigrated were British.[7]

Immigration poster
Australian Government poster issued by the Overseas Settlement Office to attract British immigrants (1928).


From the beginning of the colonial era until the mid-20th century, the vast majority of settlers to Australia were from Britain and Ireland, with the English being the dominant group, followed by the Irish and Scottish. Among the leading ancestries, increases in Australian, Irish, and German ancestries and decreases in English, Scottish, and Welsh ancestries appear to reflect such shifts in perception or reporting. These reporting shifts at least partly resulted from changes in the design of the census question, in particular the introduction of a tick box format in 2001.[8]

Those born in the United Kingdom were the largest foreign group throughout the 20th century. Prior to the last quarter of the century, the United Kingdom was strongly favoured as a source country by immigrant selection policies and remained the largest single component of the annual immigration intake until 1995–96, when immigrants from New Zealand surpassed it in number. However, their share of the total immigrant population is in decline. Those from the United Kingdom comprised 58 per cent of the total overseas-born population in 1901, compared to 27 per cent in 1996. An even greater decline has occurred for those born in Ireland. In 1901, those born in Ireland comprised 22 per cent of all immigrants, while in 1996 the Ireland-born represented just 1 per cent of the immigrant population.[9]

While those born in England have formed the largest component of the British immigrant population, Australia has also received significant numbers of immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Up until the First World War the Irish were, in their own right, the second largest immigrant population.[9]

The most dramatic increase in the British immigrant population occurred between 1961 and 1971. The number of British-born people living in Australia exceeded one million at the 1971 Census and has remained above one million to this day. The United Kingdom-born population in Australia reached a peak of 1,107,119 in 1991.[citation needed]


The 2011 Census recorded 1,101,082 United Kingdom-born people in Australia, an increase of 6.1 per cent from the 2006 Census. The 2011 distribution by state and territory showed New South Wales had the largest number with 274,821 followed by Western Australia (230,418), Queensland (214,329) and Victoria (213,377).[citation needed]

Historical immigration, 1881–2016[edit]

Figures below show the proportion of British and Irish immigration per official census.

UK / Ireland-born population of Australia 1881–2016
Year Anglo-Celtic
United Kingdom
% of all overseas-born
% of all overseas-born
1881 689,642 [10]
1901 79.2% 679,159 495 074 57.7% 184,085 21.5% [11][12]
1911 78.% 590,722 451,288 59.6% 139,434 18.4% [11]
1921 80.2% 673,403 568,370 67.7% 105,033 12.5% [11][13]
1933 78.9% 712,458 633,806 70.2% 78,652 8.7% [11]
1947 72.7% 541,267 496,454 66.7% 44,813 6.0% [11][14]
1954 51.6% 661,205 616,532 47.9% 44,673 3.5% [11][14]
1961 42.6% 755,402 718,345 40.4% 37,057 2.1% [11][14]
1966 908,664 870,548 38,116 [13]
1971 42.2% 1,088,210 1,046,356 40.6% 41,854 1.6% [11][15]
1976 1,117,599 1,070,233 47,361 [16]
1981 41.1% 1,132,601 1,086,625 36.5% [14][17]
1986 34.7% 1,127,196 [14][17]
1991 31.17% 1,174,860 1,107,119 30.0% 51,642 1.17% [14][18][19][20]
1996 1,124,031 1,072,562 28.7% 51,469 [15][19][21]
2001 1,086,496 1,036,261 25.2% 50,235 [22]
2006 1,088,416 1,038,162 23.5% 50,255 [22][23][24]
2011 20.8% 1,168,398 1,101,082 20.8% 67,318 0.0% [11][22][24][25]
2016 1,210,500 17.7% 74,895 [26]

Notes: From 1954 onwards people from "Northern Ireland" and "Ulster" were recorded separately from the people of "Ireland".[27] The 1966 census (is Republic of Ireland & Ireland (undefined).

Number of Anglo-Celtic Australians[edit]

Anglo-Celtic proportion in Australia 1846–1999
Year Population % of Australia
1846 57.2 57.2
1861 78.1 78.1
1891 86.8 86.8
1947 89.7 89.7
1988 74.6 74.6
1996 13,082,700 71.45 71.45
1999 69.9 69.9
2016 58 58
Source:1846,[28] 1996,[29] 1999,[30] 2016[1]

Anglo-Celtic is not a category in the Australian census. At the 2006 Census of Australia[31] respondents could nominate up to two ancestries (although 65% of respondents nominated just one). Out of a total of 19,855,288 responses, 6,283,647 (31.6%) responses indicated English ancestry, 1,803,740 (9.1%) indicated Irish ancestry, 1,501,204 (7.6%) indicated Scottish ancestry, 113,242 (0.7%) indicated Welsh ancestry, 1,864 (0.01%) indicated Manx ancestry, and 5,686 (0.3%) indicated British ancestry.[32]

The United Kingdom remains the leading source of immigrants to Australia. In 2005–06 22,143 persons born in the United Kingdom settled in Australia, representing 21.4% of all migrants. At the 2006 Census (excluding overseas visitors)[33] 1,038,165 persons identified themselves as having been born in the United Kingdom (5.2% of the Australian population), while 50,251 identified themselves as Irish born. The Anglo-Celtic element in the population is expected to drop to 62 percent by 2025.[34]

Between 1987 and 1999, the Anglo-Celtic component of Australia's population declined from 75 per cent to 70 per cent.[35] In 1999, the Anglo-Celtic share of the Australian population was calculated as 69.9%.[36]

A 1996 study of the ethnic origins of the Australian people shows:[37]

  • 12,438,600 people had English origins.
  • 5,454,200 people had Irish origins.
  • 5,393,800 people had Scottish origins.
  • 768,100 people had Cornish origins.
  • 727,800 people had Welsh origins.
  • 46,600 people had Manx origins.

Just over three-quarters of the Australian ancestry group stated no other ancestries. Among the 24% who did report another ancestry, the ancestries most commonly stated were English (reported by 13% of the total Australian ancestry group), Irish (3%), Scottish (1%), German (1%) and Italian (1%). The number of people reporting Australian ancestry in 2001 was almost double the 3.4 million (24% of the population) who gave Australian as their ancestry in the 1986 Census. This reflected a shift to reporting Australian ancestry among Australian-born people with Australian-born parents. Among these people, the proportion stating Australian ancestry increased from 33% to 56%, making this the group most likely to state Australian ancestry in 2001. There was also a substantial increase in reporting of Australian ancestry among Australian-born people with one parent born in Australia and one born overseas. Of this group, 33% stated Australian ancestry in 1986 and 49% in 2001. The explicit inclusion of Australian as an ancestry response in the 2001 Census (through its inclusion among the tick box answers) seems likely to have influenced this change. However, a real change in cultural affiliations may also have contributed. Compared with 1986, some people may have placed more value or relevance on their Australian affiliations and less on historic ties to England.[8]

Tasmania could have the nation's highest proportion of citizens of Anglo-Celtic origin, possibly as high as 85 percent. On the evidence of statistics of ethnic derivation Tasmania could also be considered more British than New Zealand (where the Anglo-Celtic majority has fallen below 75 percent).[38]



Ancestry was first included as a question in the 1986 Census. The aim of the question was to measure the ethnic composition of the population as a whole. Very little use was made of the ancestry data from the 1986 Census. As a consequence, ancestry was not included in either the 1991 or 1996 Censuses. In the 2011 Census, the top ancestry responses* that United Kingdom-born people reported were English (866,717), Scottish (173,804), Irish (98,728) and Welsh (36,364).

Ancestry 1986 % of Pop. 2001 % of Pop. 2006 % of Pop. 2011 % of Pop. % Change 2006–2011
England English 6,607,228[39] 42.4% 6,358,880 33.9% 6,283,647 31.6% 7,238,533 33.7%[40] - 36.1%[41] +15.2%
Republic of Ireland Irish 902,679 5.8% 1,919,727 10.2% 1,803,736 9.1% 2,087,800 10.4% +15.7%
Scotland Scottish 740,522 4.7% 540,046 2.9% 1,501,200 7.6%[40][42] 1,792,622 8.3% +19.4%
Wales Welsh no data no data 84,246 no data 113,244 0.6% 125,597 0.6% +10.9%
Total 8,250,429 52.9% 8,902,899 47.0% 9,701,827 48.9% 11,244,552 53.0% – 55.4%

Other responses[edit]

The number of people reporting "Australian" ancestry has increased with a large amount of these people having Anglo-Celtic or British origins with ancestors being in Australia for generations. In 2001 the figure almost doubled the 3.4 million (21.8% of the population) who gave Australian as their ancestry in the 1986 Census.[43]

Ancestry 1986 % of Pop. 2001 % of Pop. 2006 % of Pop. 2011 % of Pop. % Change 2006–2011
Australia Australian 3,402,407 21.8% 6,739,594 35.9% 7,371,823 37.1% 7,098,486 33.0% −3.7%


Controversy and criticism[edit]

Some have argued that the term is entirely a product of multiculturalism that ignores the history of sectarianism in Australia. For example, historian John Hirst wrote in 1994: "Mainstream Australian society was reduced to an ethnic group and given an ethnic name: Anglo-Celt."[44]

According to Hirst:

In the eyes of multiculturalists, Australian society of the 1940s, 150 years after first settlement, is adequately described as Anglo-Celtic. At least this acknowledges that the people of Australia were Irish and Scots as well as English, but it has nothing more substantial than a hyphen joining them. In fact a distinct new culture had been formed. English, Scots and Irish had formed a common identity – first of all British and then gradually Australian as well. In the 1930s the historian W.K. Hancock could aptly describe them as Independent Australian Britons.[45]

The Irish-Australian journalist Siobhán McHugh has argued that the term "Anglo-Celtic" is "an insidious distortion of our past and a galling denial of the struggle by an earlier minority group", Irish Australians, "against oppression and demonisation... In what we now cosily term "Anglo-Celtic" Australia, a virtual social apartheid existed at times between [Irish] Catholics and [British] Protestants", which did not end until the 1960s.

The term was also criticised by the historian Patrick O'Farrell as "a grossly misleading, false, and patronising convenience, one crassly present-oriented. Its use removes from consciousness and recognition a major conflict fundamental to any comprehension not only of Australian history but of our present core culture."[46]


Streams of migration from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to Australia played a key role in Australia's cultural development, despite the last substantial scheme for preferential migration from Britain to Australia ending in 1972. There is a long history of cultural exchange between the countries and Australians often use Britain as a stepping-stone to international success. In 1967, British migrants in Australia formed an association to represent their special interests: the United Kingdom Settlers' Association, which subsequently became the British Australian Community.

On 10 July 2017, during a PM press conference at 10 Downing Street with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Turnbull said:[47]

"Australians feel at home in the United Kingdom and Britons feel at home in Australia. Most Australians have some of their ancestry at least from the United Kingdom and five per cent of Australians were actually born in the United Kingdom. The culture, the laws the traditions of Britain were brought to Australia with the European settlement, British settlement that were brought as part of the heritage of the men and women, including my forebears, that founded what we know today as modern Australia".

Also included in the speech:

"We are family in a historical sense. We’re family in a genetic sense".

Place names of British origin[edit]

Melbourne – named in honour of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne and thus indirectly takes its name from the village of Melbourne, England.

There are many places in Australia named after people and places in the United Kingdom as a result of the many British settlers and explorers; in addition, some places were named after the British royal family.[citation needed]

New South Wales[edit]

New South Wales – Cook first named the land "New Wales", named after Wales. However, in the copy held by the Admiralty, he "revised the wording" to "New South Wales".[48]

Northern Territory[edit]


Queensland – The state was named in honour of Queen Victoria,[50][51] who on 6 June 1859 signed Letters Patent separating the colony from New South Wales.[52]

South Australia[edit]



Victoria – like Queensland, was named after Queen Victoria, who had been on the British throne for 14 years when the colony was established in 1851.[57]

Western Australia[edit]

External territories[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Precise data on the 'Anglo-Celtic' population is unknown. The Australian census bureau of Statistics first asked the ancestry question in 1986. Census data for the ancestry of the total population is not precise due to millions of Australians self-identified as just 'Australian' on the census. However, most likely to be of old Colonial Anglo-Celtic stock.
  2. ^ The Australian Bureau of Statistics has stated that most who list "Australian" as their ancestry are part of the "Anglo-Celtic" group.[2]
  3. ^ Ireland was historically a part of Britain. See: Ireland: Union with Great Britain.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ "Feature Article - Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Australia (Feature Article)". January 1995. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  3. ^ J. Hirst, The Australians: Insiders and Outsiders on the National Character Since 1770, p. 15.
  4. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (January 1995). "Feature Article – Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Australia (Feature Article)". Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Molony, John Neylon (2000). The Native-born: The First White Australians. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 978-0-522-84903-5.
  6. ^ "NATIVE-BORN AUSTRALIANS". The Empire (5108). New South Wales, Australia. 4 April 1868. p. 5. Retrieved 14 July 2020 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "Ancestry Information Operations Unlimited Company – Press Releases". Archived from the original on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  8. ^ a b!OpenDocument Australia Bureau of Statistics
  9. ^ a b Immigration and Population History of Selected Countries of Birth United Kingdom – A Short Immigration History
  10. ^ "Year Book Australia, 1989 No. 72". Aust. Bureau of Statistics. 1988.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Top 10 countries of birth for the overseas‐born population since 1901 Top 10 countries of overseas-born
  12. ^ Composition: Changing links with Europe Australian Bureau of Statistics
  14. ^ a b c d e f Composition: Changing links with Europe Australian Bureau of Statistics
  15. ^ a b Australia's 15 Largest Birthplace Groups, 1947, 1971, and 1996 Source: Australian censuses of 1947, 1971, and 1996.
  16. ^ CENSUS OF POPULATION AND HOUSING, 30 JUNE 1976 COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA Population by Birthplace (Pages: 1–2)
  18. ^ Year Book Australia 1995
  19. ^ a b Birthplace by Region, 1996 Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996 Census of Population and Housing, Australia
  20. ^ Dimensions of Australian Society By Brian Graetz, Ian McAllister
  21. ^ OVERSEAS-BORN POPULATION: TOP 12 BIRTHPLACE GROUPS Australian Bureau of Statistics
  22. ^ a b c THE IRELAND-BORN COMMUNITY IN VICTORIA and Australia 2011 Census
  23. ^ "The Top Sending Regions of Immigrants in Australia, Canada, and the United States". 20 August 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  24. ^ a b The People of Australia Statistics from the 2011 Census Archived 17 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine Australia: 2011 and 2006 Census
  26. ^ 2016 Census QuickStats – People in Australia who were born in Ireland
  27. ^ Alan James (2012). New Britannia: The rise and decline of Anglo-Australia. Renewal Publications, University of Melbourne. p. 51. ISBN 978-1-300-54292-6.
  28. ^ "Australia today – Department of Social Services, Australian Government". Archived from the original on 20 June 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  29. ^ The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their ... – By James Jupp
  30. ^ The Transformation of Australia's Population: 1970–2030 (Page 166) – edited by Siew-An Khoo, Peter F. McDonald, Siew-Ean Khoo
  31. ^ "Chapter – Cultural diversity". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 7 February 2008. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  32. ^ "Main Features – Ancestry". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  33. ^ "T08 Country of Birth of Person by Sex: 2011 Census". Archived from the original on 25 August 2014.
  34. ^ B. Yeoh, M. Charney, T. Kiong, Approaching Transnationalisms: Studies on Transnational Societies, Multicultural Contacts, and Imaginings of Home, 2003, p. 108
  35. ^ Khoo, Siew-An, Peter McDonald, and Siew-Ean Khoo, eds. The Transformation of Australia's Population: 1970–2030. UNSW Press, 2003, p. 165.
  36. ^ Price, Charles A. (1999). "Australian Population: Ethnic Origins" (PDF). People and Place. Monash University. 7 (4): 12–16. ISSN 1039-4788. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  37. ^ Jupp, James (2001), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins (2 ed.), Cambridge University Press, pp. 83–85, ISBN 978-0-521-80789-0
  38. ^ "Britishness". Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  39. ^ The Transformation of Australia's Population: 1970–2030 edited by Siew-An Khoo, Peter F. McDonald, Siew-Ean Khoo (Page: 164)
  40. ^ a b The people of Australia: Statistics from the 2011 census (PDF). Canberra: Department of Immigration and Border Protection. 2014. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-920996-23-9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 May 2014.
  41. ^ "2011 Census data shows more than 300 ancestries". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  42. ^ The People of Australia – Statistics from the 2006 Census(Page 50)
  43. ^ "Chapter – Population characteristics: Ancestry of Australia's population". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 3 June 2003. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  44. ^ "Multiculturalism becomes poison for social capital". The Australian. 26 September 2007. Archived from the original on 5 September 2008. Retrieved 26 October 2007.
  45. ^ John Hirst, Sense and Nonsense in Australian History, Black Inc. Agenda, Melbourne (ISBN 978-0-9775949-3-1), page 12
  46. ^ "How the Irish rose above Australia's social apartheid – The Sydney Morning Herald". The Sydney Morning Herald. 14 October 2009.
  47. ^ Speech – PM press conference with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull: 10 July 2017
  48. ^ See Captain W. J. L. Wharton's preface to his 1893 transcription of Cook's journal. Available online in the University of Adelaide Library's Electronic Texts Collection.
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  62. ^ Statham, Pamela (1981). "Swan River Colony". In Stannage, Tom (ed.). A New History of Western Australia. Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press. ISBN 0-85564-181-9.
  63. ^ Channers On Norfolk Island Info Archived 22 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine. (15 March 2013). Retrieved on 16 July 2013.